Spaceballs (1987) 30th Anniversary Review

In all the fever pitch excitement of the countdown to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and its subsequent reception, the 30th anniversary of another space saga which took place once upon a timewarp in a galaxy very, very, very, very far away kind of slipped by. Released 30 years ago in the UK on the 11th December, Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” was an affectionate and good-natured spoof of the venerable science fantasy series, held in almost as high esteem as its satirical target.

When the dreaded Spaceballs set their sights on the clean, fresh air of planet Druidia, only the planetary shield offers the peaceful Druish people any protection. But when Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) manages to capture Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), only Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his trusty sidekick Barf (John Candy) can stop President Skroob’s evil plan.

Coming out some four years after “Return Of The Jedi”, it initially felt like it had missed its mark as hope of any more “Star Wars” films had faded but, thanks to the prequels and the more recent revival, “Spaceballs” feels fresher than ever.

The original “Star Wars” may have been little more than a space western but that’s just fine, because “Spaceballs” is essentially “Blazing Saddles” in space. It has the same amiably goofy mix of terrible puns, sight gags, sly wit and fourth-wall breaking antics as the Brooks’ beloved cowboy parody, bolstered this time by a fiendishly sharp satire of the off-screen marketing juggernaut of Star Wars merchandise. From the opening shot parodying Lucas’ iconic Star Destroyer flyover to the introduction of the Spaceballs’ commanders Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) and Dark Helmet, Brooks peppers the screen with gags skewering both Star Wars and generic sci-fi movies.

Bill Pullman provides a solid leading man as Captain Lone Starr, a portmanteau character fusing and sending up aspects of Luke Skywalker and Hand Solo while Daphne Zuniga provides a suitably feisty princess but it’s the supporting cast who gleefully steal this film. From Brooks himself doing double duty as President Skroob and the mysterious Yogurt to John Candy’s funnier than it ought to be Mog and Joan Rivers’ Dot Matrix, it’s the villains and the sidekicks who get all the best jokes. Moranis’ Dark Helmet is an inspired performance, possibly his best. The video rental scene itself is pure cinematic comedy genius.

All the comedy in the world won’t help a movie if the story doesn’t work and, despite a silly streak a parsec wide, there are some solidly developed sci-fi ideas underpinning the lampoonery; it even had one of its ideas incorporated into official “Star Wars” canon in “Rogue One” (and there’s more than a hint of the Spaceballs about some of the First Order’s officers too). The production values, likewise, are pretty good and so they should be given George Lucas was given the chance to read the script before production began and loved it so much, he decided to have Industrial Light & Magic help make the film. The Millennium Falcon even makes a cameo appearance – it can be spotted parked there among the other space vehicles at the Space Diner. Aside from the special effects work, there’s more impressive work in costume design and makeup, such as the makeup effects for Pizza The Hut’s robotic sidekick Vinny which involves no prosthetics at all.

While it maintains a laser focus on the foibles of “Star Wars”, it still finds time for swipes at “Alien” and “Planet Of The Apes” and boasts a script crammed with almost as many quotable moments as the original trilogy itself. With “Star Wars” reinvigorated like never before, surely it’s only a matter of time before Brooks is convinced to finally make good on the satirical promise to make “Spaceballs II: The Search For More Money”.

If “The Last Jedi” wasn’t quite funny enough for you, or you just want some plain old-fashioned fun at the expense of the melodramatic Skywalker clan, then “Spaceballs” is the perfect film for you.


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